This article is adapted from Tom Eastman’s article that appeared in the Conway (NH) Daily Sun in July.
The alternative energy vision and community legacy of late Madison resident, Ray O’Brien, shined bright at dedication ceremonies on a hot and sunny Monday morning on the town of Madison’s new “Ray’s Array” solar electric system behind the town-owned Burke Ballfield.
Noreen Downs, of the Madison Advisory Energy Committee, chaired Monday morning’s dedication held behind the town garage, town hall, town fire department, town maintenance garage and library. All the buildings are being supplied power from the 63-kilowatt, 180-photovoltaic panel solar array, installed by ReVision Energy and which will produce more than 80,000 kilowatt-hours of solar electricity each year.
“Back in 2013, Ray O’Brien and I were part of the Citizens for Energy Efficient Communities. We asked selectmen if they would be interested in having some analysis done on town buildings for energy efficiencies. We went before the town legislative body in 2014 and they approved the establishment of the energy committee. Ray O’Brien was the chair. At the end of 2014, we put together quite a list of timeline projects and half of them have been completed,” said Downs.
At the end of 2018, the committee decided to look further into solar and did analyses of the energy efficiencies of Madison Elementary School and town buildings. The school was mired at the time in other projects concerning maintenance, however, and was not in a position to embrace the solar project; but, the committee put out a request for proposals focusing on town buildings.
Voters at a town meeting last year approved a warrant article that authorized selectmen to enter into a lease agreement with a third-party investor for renting a piece of town property for the purpose of the installation of a ground-mounted solar array. The area chosen required no tree removal or grading. It was perfectly suited for solar application.
Downs said the Energy Advisory Committee will track the progress of this project in hopes that one day a similar project can be recommended for the elementary school, adding that the project is expected to save on the overall cost of electricity for years to come while providing a positive impact on the environment.
“What you see here today is the result of that effort. It took us about a year and a half for the paperwork which was finished in 2019, fortunately before the pandemic. The installation was completed a few weeks ago and actually turned on July 2. It is producing quite a bit of power which can be followed on a website. It is doing a fabulous job,” said Downs.
Downs was joined by the Energy Committee co-chair, Russ Dowd, former general manager of Pine Tree Power of Madison, a wood-to-energy plant. He also praised the vision of O’Brien in wanting to lead Madison’s alternative energy efforts, noting that as a teacher and community leader, O’Brien’s legacy was to plant seeds — the fruits of which townspeople are celebrating today with the new array.
“For me, this project represents Ray’s legacy of a person who fostered and promoted a learning culture,” said Dowd, who used to host O’Brien’s school classes on field trips to Pine Tree Power where he underscored that Pine Tree wasn’t about creating energy — it was about converting energy, a lesson that O’Brien explained to his students in terms that would stay with them.
Chuck Henderson, local representative for Senator Jeanne Shaheen, was present at the ceremony, which was attended by about 17 people. Speaking on behalf of Senator Shaheen, Henderson said, “Each successfully completed community solar project helps town committees and project champions to do the homework, gain the confidence, build consensus and go forward with their project. Today, we honor one such project champion by dedicating the project to Ray O’Brien. Ray approached the challenges of changing our energy use with boundless curiosity, perpetual excitement and the conviction that we can make the world a little better by working together to get something done.”
The project is installed under a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) where an investor owns the solar array and sells electricity to the town at a discounted price over the utility’s rate. For the town of Madison, that investor is Blue Haven Initiative, an impact investor dedicated to putting wealth to work for positive social and environmental change. Blue Haven is able to take advantage of a 26 percent Federal Investment Tax Credit and equipment depreciation write-offs that the municipality cannot take because it doesn’t pay taxes.
The town benefits because it can purchase the facility in the future at a reduced cost instead of owning it from day one. At the start of year six, the town can purchase the installation from Blue Haven at a fair market value, normally around 60 percent of the original cost. After the purchase, the town owns all the power generated. This project is estimated to save the Town of Madison almost $370,000 over the 40-year lifespan of the system, according to Brittany Angelo of Maine and New Hampshire’s ReVision Energy. In her remarks Angelo said ReVision Energy “is honored to work with the town.”
Madison is the first community in the [Mount Washington] valley to build a solar system for its town use, though the North Conway Sewer and Water district have a large array to power their wastewater plant.
Madison’s Energy Advisory Committee consists of individuals who also sit on the Albany, NH solar-powered Tin Mountain Conservation Center’s valley-wide Energy Team.
For more information, go to madison-nh.org.
Tom Eastman is a reporter for the Conway Daily Sun.